Cotton Pickin’ Technology

Technology is a driving force in society. As defined by Webster’s Dictionary, technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry. Farming is no exception. The Plains Cotton Cooperative Association, a cotton marketing association, does their part in staying up-to-date with the latest technology for their members.

Joe Tubb, vice president of information systems at PCCA, has been referred to as the “I.T. guy” for 30 years and counting. His position has rewarded him with experience and wisdom in the field of cotton technology.

“When I came here we started with IBM frames and cards,” Tubb said. “Actual, physical warehouse receipts were a punch card. So, we dealt with punch cards. We got rid of those. We actually had a patent for the electronic title and electronic trading of goods that we used to get off of that.”

Module mapping technology making it easier for gins to locate bales on an eld once they are called in. Courtesy of Rusty’s Weigh.

Technology in cotton gins and warehouses has since taken off, moving almost completely to a digital system. Steven White has been the director of cotton services and gin accounting at PCCA for 14 years.

“Even, just for me over the past 14 years, there’s been a huge change,” White said. “As simple as the types of computers that we use, to the number of computers that are out there, so now there’s a lot happening on tablets and phones.”

White said PCCA sees the needs of their members and does their best to accommodate them. They focus on efficiency to enhance the member experience.

“These days, though, if you can just cut down on clicks, people love it,” White said. “You don’t have to make the biggest and worst system. You just have to make it efficient.”

White said the challenge is to fit complicated systems into one easy-to-use product. He said it can be challenging to manage, but he hopes PCCA does a good job at it.

This warehouse in Lubbock, Texas, is where cotton is labeled and tracked to know where it came from and where it is going. The new green bag technology is used for efficiency and easy storage.

There is a gap in generations when it comes to acceptance of change in technology. Cotton farming is no different, and White said PCCA does what they can to keep members of all ages satisfied.

“We still see quite a difference in the older generation and the younger generation, but that gap is closing,” White said. “We still do some of the older things for the older members, which is great, because they don’t expect anything else. There is a group that it is hard [to get to adapt to new technologies].”

White said he is often surprised by older generations of farmers who are willing to try new technology.

“It’s in the attitude,” Tubb said. “A lot of these farmers, that are still farming today, they don’t farm the way they did 10 years ago or 20 years ago. So they’re already adapting, so I think they just consider technology another tool. If it helps them get their job done and get their information, they’re ready to go.”

PCCA gets requests from members and gins alike for what technology they wish to see implemented in the future. Aside from sorting through such requests, PCCA employees look for ways they can improve the ginning process.

“We don’t do a whole lot of development that isn’t requested by our customers. It does, no doubt, take a while to get the kinks worked out,” White said.  “I would say every program has its first version that may not look anything like the final product. It takes time. It takes testing here and in the field and in the gin.”

Not because we want to be necessarily the leading edge, but because that’s what we need to have to do our business.

The cotton farming process is practiced throughout the year, thus, improvements to member experience are made year-round. White said there are many ways enhancements are requested and it is sometimes difficult to sift through what needs to be done.

Drone shot of cotton harvester in Phytogen research field.

“If it benefits the group,” White said, “and it’s doable, then we try to get that done. If there’s something that’s needed and Joe says it can be done without much trouble, there are enhancements that get put out all the time.”

White said they distribute enhancements to a point where there is trouble getting news of the enhancements to their members.

With many projects being worked on, PCCA releases enhancements slowly to aid in this process. Tubb said instead of having an all-encompassing software, they release it in increments to better maintain it. He said this is done, in part, because technology is rapidly changing, so what they wanted when a new project begins is not likely to be the same once the project is complete.

Tubb said PCCA works to stay current with technology trends and uses it to their advantage.

“PCCA has used technology as an advantage for 30 years and we’re not stopping,” White said. “We’re going to increase it. It’s a little easier for some of these other companies now to get into the technology side in some regards, so that means we got to push a little harder and stay with it.”

Tubb said people are surprised when they enter PCCA’s office, thinking they are going to be “some backwater place still using Windows 98.”

“We try to keep our I.T. group current,” Tubb said. “We’re running state-of-the-art technology in servers – our machine room looks far different today than it did 10 years ago. We’ve virtualized a lot of things. Not because we want to be necessarily the leading edge, but because that’s what we need to have to do our business.”

Contrary to similar situations, the men at PCCA did not complain about the advancements and changes we see today, but they welcome it, and all the work that comes with it.